The world’s saddest and most beautiful Instagram account

Today marks two years since my father’s death. These 24 months have convinced me more than ever that, if we loved well, we leave behind an almost physical presence when we die – an influence on the minds and memories of others that continues to affect the way they move through the world for years to come.

That’s why the No Estamos Todas project (Not All of Us Are Here) and its account on Instagram or Facebook is both heartbreaking and unmissable. It takes the faces of women whose lives were cut short and brings them into our day-to-day existence: the Mexico-based project invites artists from around the world to create illustrations of the victims of feminicides and transfeminicides. Yendry, from Limón, just 16 years old. Jessica, from Puntarenas, 36. Alejandra, from Cartago, 27. And on and on they go, from Costa Rica, from Mexico, from place after place and town after town.

Angelica and Karla, Mexico. No Estamos Todas via Instagram.

It’s brutal, and yet: scrolling through No Estamos Todas reminds you of the love that remains. The fact that so many talented artists, some who knew the women, some who didn’t, have pored over their stories and worked hard to capture their essence, is in itself an antidote to the feeling of helplessness that is so dangerous when it comes to this issue.

Yendry. Limón. 16 years old. No Estamos Todas via Instagram.

Some of the portraits are solemn, but not all. Look again at Nicole, from Argentina, just 21. She makes me want to cry, but she also makes me smile. She makes it impossible to wallow. She makes the viewer want to do something in her honor. Tramp through the streets in the next protest. Hike over mountains and see the world.

Nicole, Argentina.

It is comforting, somehow, to know that these women left something behind. Inspiration. Gumption. Most of all, love. But these portraits also show us the power of the living, and the responsibility we bear every morning that we wake up, still breathing. Because if love can be this powerful after death, imagine what we can accomplish while we are still here to paint, draw, write, speak, shout, march and vote.

Jessica. Puntarenas, Costa Rica. No Estamos Todas via Instagram.

That’s what these artists are reminding us. They are building a sisterhood where none existed. They are choosing to show love to people most of them didn’t even know.

Ingrid. Mexico.

That’s what all of us can do when, with every day that passes, we choose the people we honor, even through as something as small as a pause in our scrolling, a smile, a little prayer. A vow to a woman holding flowers in the same valley where I live with my daughter. A promise to an Argentinean, barely more than a girl, charging forward into the world with a bravery we’ve seen in our own children’s faces. A scrambling, passionate resolve to make this stop. To remember them. To love on their behalf, knowing love’s our only legacy.

María Alejandra, Cartago.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! Each month in 2020 has a monthly theme, and February’s is marriage equality, so scroll back through the month to see several posts highlighting people and organizations working on behalf of this issue in Costa Rica. 

 

Day 57: Is December the most honest month?

I miss the four seasons I grew up with. I especially love a crisp autumn day, a serene winter morning, a long summer evening. But if we’re doing a strict month-on-month analysis, I’m really not sure what could beat December in Costa Rica.

Did you see the series finale of “Downton Abbey,” where Lady Edith gets married and everyone else falls in love, brings forth new life, dances in slow motion or gazes lovingly at someone or something? That’s what it’s like. Sunny afternoons. Cool breezes that tousle your hair. Christmas. Festivals everywhere you look. School vacation. The aguinaldo, or Christmas bonus worth a full month’s salary. The whole country sort of swoons at once. Adults act like kids, fidgeting in their swivel chairs, gazing out the window at the delectably tempting sunny afternoons, trying to think of a reason to have some more rompope.

Still, as someone who grew up in New England, it took me a while to get used to a warm Christmas. In today’s piece over at my @poemsondemand account on Instagram, I decided to tackle a prompt I made up myself: explaining why December has such a unique and consistent feel even if you spend it in a climate and a culture so different from the one you grew up in. The answer I came up with? No matter where you are, December is the point of the year when you realize you’ve run out of time – and arbitrary as that milestone may be, it makes us throw our hands up and let go of expectations. As a result, I ended up wondering whether December, for all its festivities and excitement, might actually be the most honest of months. What do you think? (Do you have a poem topic to assign to me, seasonal or otherwise? The trickier or more random, the better. Help support my new addiction.)

No matter where December finds you this year, I wish you a month full of light.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 

 

Day 17: Words that knock down tyrants

On Sunday, a woman literally leapt over hurdles to make history. Today, I invite you to meet a group of artists who blazed their trail on the page. This year, they created an anthology written, edited and illustrated by women working in concert to tackle a single theme, the first anthology of its kind in Costa Rica. The result was “Mi desamor es una dulzura invaluable” (a title that actually started out in English as “My Sweet Unlove Remembered Such Wealth Brings,” inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29).

I got to hear some of the women behind this project talk about their book – which united rising stars in playwriting, poetry, fiction and journalism, along with illustrator Alejandra Montero Agüero – at a Librería Internacional over the weekend. As I listened, I felt myself filling with questions: how is it possible that this was the first all-female project of its kind in Costa Rica? Why on earth is it still so unusual for women to take up artistic space like this? What should we do about the enduring gap? When award-winning journalist Natalia Díaz Zeledón, the editor of the anthology, read her preface to close out the activity, she echoed some of those same thoughts. Here’s just a taste, with apologies for any errors in my translation:

Words are marvelous… in the correct order, they can dispel confusion, heal wounds and reveal new worlds.

…Knowledge, or so we’ve been told, defeats despots. Women who produce knowledge break down the walls that hold back the rest of us. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf, Gabriela Mistral, Clarice Lispector, Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Giaconda Belli, Ana Istarú, Valeria Luiselli… many western women have use their words to create openings to new worlds. Still, there are not enough of us: we can see this in bookstores, in the guests at literary festivals, and on the shelves of libraries.

…The #MeToo social movements and the testimonies of women don’t spring up from a sudden outpouring of dissent. It’s clear that those crimes have been hidden beneath a population that is unequal, that is educated to be that way… There is suffering that we still do not put into words because those who could use those words have not done so. That’s what true equality is about, in which gender ceases to be an obstacle to communication.

-Natalia Díaz Zeledón

As she finished her reading, I realized the answer to my questions had been sitting right in front of me all along. The answer is for individual women to raise their voices, and for more of us to do this in groups so that we can bring others along. What’s more, all of us have the power to help women reshape the shelves of our bookstores: by buying their books, by reading and sharing their creations. Every time we do this, we cast another vote for this kind of work. We pull up another seat at the table these writers shared on Saturday.

If you read Spanish, I highly recommend you check out this slender volume that covers so much ground and is beautifully illustrated by Alejandro Montero Agüero. Here’s to words that heal and words that reveal new worlds, all in the hands of brilliant new talents.

Who are your favorite women writers? I’d love to know.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter).  

 

 

Day 7: From Jorge, for Greta

Poetry is the damndest thing.

Last night at dinner I said to my husband, “What do we do? How are we supposed to go on when we have world leaders who can listen to a speech like Greta’s and then not take action? Do we just revolt in every single country that’s not falling in line? Do we create some kind of a parallel leadership structure? Do we just take over? Do we just create a new, single nation of people who give a rat’s ass, and elect our own leaders and go from there?”

He shrugged, which I guess is a logical response to such questions, especially when you have a mouthful of soup.

And then I walked upstairs and took a book of Costa Rican poetry off the shelf on a WWJDS-ish whim (that’s What Would Jorge Debravo Say, of course), and the book fell open to “La Patria,” and there he was, telling me just about the same thing. “A homeland is just like fruit,” he says, “sometimes sweet and delicious, sometimes acidic and bitter.” He imagines a borderless planet where “we could work, serenely abandoned.”

Isn’t that what we need to do? To get to work, abandoned though we may be by many of the people who have the most power to create change? Don’t those of us who are committed to this have more in common than compatriots might? Should we be pledging allegiance and paying taxes, with our donation dollars and purchase power, to a new nation led by the scientists and CEOs and mayors and teenagers and whoever else has been stepping up to the plate? It sounds like a fantasy, but it may also be the only possible way to continue.

For the first time in a long time, a poem made me feel more energetic at night than I had in the the morning. I’m not sure how serene I’ll feel about our abandonment in the harsh light of day, but I won’t be alone. I’m a citizen of the unstoppable. Now, there is no other way to be.

Here’s the full poem, “La Patria” (my apologies for any late-night less-than-elegant or overly creative translation):

The homeland is like fruit:
sometimes sweet and delicious;
sometimes acidic and bitter.

As soon as we start school,
or even as soon as we’re born,
they place the homeland in our hands
and they make us love it.
They tell us that “homeland” is delicious.
They never tell us that sometimes it’s bitter.

Homeland is the bitterest invention
since the bad invention of our soul.

If we all inhabited the world
as one single homeland,
there would be no orphans, no widows,
not in the lands of drought, not in the pouring rain.

We would be able to work, serenely abandoned,
without killing each other for the homeland on the battlefield…

(From Vórtices, Editorial Costa Rica, Second Edition, 1999)

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook!